How To Help A Choking Dog: Your Guide to Prevention & Protection

Alice Newen | 01 March, 2024

            How To Help A Choking Dog: Your Guide to Prevention & Protection

With dogs' curious nature, seeing them chewing on various objects (e.g. food, toys, etc.), leading to occasional minor choking incidents, has become common. Sometimes, we simply wait for them to cough up the obstruction lodged in their throat and trust that they’ll eventually be fine. 

But what if it’s something serious? Something your dog couldn't handle alone? 

That’s why all cases of choking should always be taken seriously and treated immediately.

How do you know if your dog is choking?

You might think choking to death is an uncommon experience for dogs, but it can actually happen while your fur baby is having fun retrieving balls, eating his usual dog treats, or enjoying dog park strolls. In fact, over 200,000 pets are brought to veterinarians due to choking. Unfortunately, some fur babies don’t survive this seemingly trivial hazard as owners struggle to find the right actions and help. 

Hence, it’s always best to watch out for choking signs and symptoms and know how to help a choking dog. You wouldn’t want to feel helpless during this time, right? 

Types of airway obstruction

The first thing you must realise is that choking is due to different types of blockages, and knowing which one your dog’s experiencing can help you decide which course of action to take. 

1. Partial obstruction

During partial obstruction or choking, air can still move in and out of your dog’s lungs. That’s why you could still see your dog retching, pawing at their mouth, and pacing back and forth. However, partial obstruction can still cause lasting oesophagal and tracheal injuries. 

2. Total obstruction

Choking won't always be noticeable at first glance. When dogs are fully choked, they can't make their typical choking sounds because their airway is blocked, and you'll hear gasping and desperate, deep breathing instead.

Signs and symptoms of choking

Dogs can be playful with their toys, food, and even their harnesses, making it difficult to be sure whether they’re choking or simply grunting from excitement. So, here are some choking signs and symptoms you shouldn’t ignore:

  • Pacing back and forth, showing distress and discomfort
  • Retching and gagging (partial obstruction)
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Blue or grey gums, tongue, and lips
  • Gasping for breath
  • Drooling excessively
  • Collapse due to respiratory failure (severe cases)

Some choking incidents can be as obvious as collars getting entangled in fences or as subtle as having a dog treat stuck in the throat. Therefore, fur parents must be vigilant at all times to notice even the slightest signs of choking before it’s too late. 

What to do if your dog is choking?

Seeing your dog struggling to breathe can be a horrifying sight, something that can invoke panic and anxiety. But, during this time, your fur baby needs you to remain calm, as the choking’s already making him nervous. 

First aid for choking animals

Choking in dogs is similar to humans. Hence, classic DRSABC (Danger, Response, Send for help, Airway, Breathing, CPR) could still effectively work as first aid for choking dogs.

1. Check for dangers

Choking can be terrifying for dogs, too. So, they would likely be initially aggressive when you try to help them. But no matter how violent they may become, never put a muzzle on a dog who is choking or struggling to breathe. Restrain the dog as gently as possible.

2. Send for Help

If you’re still unsure how to restrain your dog, look for someone nearby to help you carry, control, or even first-aid your fur baby. While doing so, you can also call for veterinary services in advance. 

3. Airway Clearing

Once the dog’s under control, you can now attempt to remove the object obscuring the dog’s airway by following these steps:

  • Carefully open the dog’s mouth and fold the dog’s lips over the teeth to protect your fingers from potential bites.
  • Remove the object
    • If the object’s visible and large enough for a sweep

Pull out the tongue, straighten the neck, and do a mouth sweep using your index finger to locate and remove the object. Be careful not to push the object further down. If your dog is too aggressive, do not attempt this method.

  • If not

Use tweezers or forceps to break apart the object, then remove as many pieces as possible.

  • If the object’s as large as a ball or toy 

Use your thumbs to press under the dog's jaw on both sides near the throat's base and push upward.

  • Check the dog’s breathing and pulse. 

If unconscious, cover the dog’s nose with your mouth and blow in while keeping his mouth shut. If no pulse is detected, skip to CPR and get ready to go to the vet.

4. Heimlich Maneuver

If taking your dog to the vet would take too long, and it’s impossible to see and remove the object by hand, perform the Heimlich Maneuver.

You might ask, isn’t it for humans? Does it work on dogs, too? It does! In fact, Dr Henry Heimlich first tested this method with the help of an anaesthetised dog. It was then he found out that pushing the diaphragm upward would force air from the lungs, expelling whatever was blocking the throat. 

But this method varies based on your dog’s size, as improper pushing might harm small dogs or might not be enough to affect large dogs.

Small Dogs

Here are two ways you can perform the Heimlich Maneuver on small dogs:

  • Lift and fist

Lift the dog, positioning them so they face away from you. Identify the tender area below their ribs on the abdomen. Utilise the thumb side of your closed fist to apply inward and upward pressure gently.

  • Down and hand heel

Place the dog on their back. Locate the tender area beneath the ribs on the abdomen. Use the heel of your hand to press in an inward and upward direction softly.

Large Dogs

As for large dogs, you can use any of the following methods:

  • Standing and fist

Lift the dog onto their hind legs, positioning them in a human-like stance with their back to you. Find the soft spot below the ribs on the abdomen, and gently press inward and upward with your fist.

  • Side and fist

Position the dog on their side, locate the tender area under the ribcage, and with support from behind, press your fist upward and inward towards the spine.

Immediately stop the thrusting once the object’s dislodged to avoid injuring your dog’s chest and abdominal area.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

After performing the Heimlich Maneuver, do a mouth sweep and check the dog’s breathing and pulse. If the airway is clear, but the dog’s not breathing or has no pulse, perform CPR to push the blood out of the heart’s chambers.

  1. Lay the dog on his right side
  2. Locate the heart behind his elbow on the chest
  3. Place one hand flat on the chest and the other stacked on top. For smaller dogs (13.6 kgs or less), use your thumb and fingers to provide compressions.
  4. Alternately give 30 compressions/2 rescue breaths (Compress by pressing 1-2 inches deep, roughly 1/3 the chest width, at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute)
  5. Check your dog every 1-2 minutes for responsiveness. Keep performing CPR or artificial respiration until the dog resumes breathing and recovers a steady pulse.

If the dog still shows no signs of recovery after 20 minutes, stopping the treatment is advisable, as success is unlikely beyond this point. Focus instead on getting your dog to the vet and having the lodged object removed for certain costs:

  • For briefly lodged objects that can be extracted with forceps or mouth sweep: $500-$1,000
  • For briefly lodged objects retrieved via endoscopy: $750-$1,500
  • For prolonged, complex, or surgical cases of stuck items: $1,500-$3,000

You also have to understand that while there is an initial 58% survival rate immediately after CPR, the chance of dogs surviving until discharge is only between 3-6% for dogs.


Even if your first aid successfully dislodged the object obstructing your dog’s airway, make sure to have your fur baby thoroughly checked by the vet. There may be mouth or throat injuries in dogs that take days to heal and lead to eating difficulties or chest and abdominal damage from thrusting too hard during CPR.

Should I give my dog water after choking?

To help your dog relax, you can let them drink water in small amounts and administer pain relievers as the vet advises.  

How to Prevent Your Dog From Choking Again

As in everything, prevention will always be better than cure for choking incidents. You and your dog don’t have to go through the stress and anxiety of choking if you can make the chances of these incidents happening as slim as possible. 

To do this, you must understand that some dogs are more susceptible to choking than others and be aware of the common sources of choking in dogs.

Susceptible Dogs

Some dogs that are more likely to choke are the following:

1. Fast-eaters

Dogs who devour their food quickly without chewing could potentially choke on their meals or treats. If your fur baby falls under this type, you can help regulate their food intake and avoid choking by hand feeding or using dog puzzle feeders.

2. Dogs with anxiety disorders

Dogs with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other anxiety conditions tend to shred their toys and balls into smaller parts, accidentally ingest these fragments, and eventually experience mild to severe choking. 

3. Brachycephalic breeds

Choking happens more frequently in brachycephalic breeds or short-nosed and flat-paced dogs like pugs and bulldogs, as they possess a higher quantity of soft tissue in the rear throat area and a narrower trachea (windpipe) compared to other breeds.

Common sources of choking in dogs

Here are common sources of choking that you should watch out for to prevent choking incidents from happening:

  • Leash, harness, or collars tightly wrapped or entangled around your dog’s neck
  • Outdoor items like trash, litter, and clumps of grass
  • Tennis balls that may get lodged in a dog's mouth
  • Dog treats that are prone to breaking into large pieces
  • Synthetic materials like plastic, rubber, and fabric
  • Batteries
  • Children's toys 
  • Garments such as socks, underwear, and bikinis

Understanding these sources enables you to reduce dangerous objects in your home, reducing the risk of your dog choking. You may also consider buying pet accessories like collars and harnesses with breathable sizes and materials.


Knowing how to help a choking dog is crucial for any dog owner or caregiver. Being prepared can make a significant difference in saving a dog's life. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can immediately assist a choking dog and increase the chances of a positive outcome. 

Remember that prevention is key, so always be mindful of the objects and food items your dog can access, and take steps to minimise choking hazards in your pet's environment.

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